Turkey is among the countries with strong central government, where local governments have not been adequately empowered. Special provincial administrations, a kind of regional government across provinces established by law in 1914, have to date been inhibited from flourishing by the central government. Municipalities on the other hand were established by law in 1930. They too failed to make notable progress until the 1960s due to limited functions and financial resources.
The year 1963 marked a turning point for municipalities when direct popular vote was introduced to elect mayors, making the municipalities politically more significant. Another milestone in municipal history was the devolution of land development planning powers to municipalities in 1985. Laws on local governments were revised and re-enacted in 2004 and 2005 introducing reforms that strengthened their administrative autonomy and boosted their financial resources and powers.
The status of metropolitan municipality was introduced in 1984 for large cities (i.e. metropolis) setting up a two-tier local government structure with district municipalities as the lower tier in charge of micro-services, and the metropolitan municipality as the upper tier in charge of macro-services. In 2014, the metropolitan status was accorded to a total of 30 cities, collectively holding today 70% of the national population.
Special provincial administrations and villages were abolished in the provinces where the metropolitan status was accorded, leaving the municipality as the sole local government.
A- Local election system
Local administrators (mayors, municipal councillors, general provincial councillors and mukhtars) in Turkey are elected directly by people. Nation-wide local elections are held every five years, with the most recent on 30 March 2014.
Elections are held on the basis of free, equal, secret ballot, direct, universal vote, open counting and listing under the administration and supervision of the judiciary.
For elections for municipal councils and general provincial councils, each district is an electoral district. Proportional representation is the basis of elections for municipal councils and general provincial councils whereas mayoral election relies on majority.
An electoral bar of 10% applies to municipal councils and general provincial councils which operates in the following manner: 10% of valid votes are first subtracted from the total votes received by each political party or independent candidate; then the winner is named on the basis of remaining votes.
Municipal council elections further include a quota clause which awards the so-called number of “quota seats” to the highest voted political party. Quota seats are established as follows: 1 for municipal councils with 9 to 11 councillors; 2 for those with 15 councillors; 3 for those with 25 to 31 councillors; 4 for those with 37 councillors, 5 for those with 45 councillors and 6 for those with 55 councillors. Political parties identify their candidates for the quota seats by central nomination.
The current Turkish local election law, political parties law and other laws concerning election financing severely inhibit the competition by independent candidates. Particularly due to the electoral bar and quota clauses, independent candidates stand very low chances of being elected. The number of independent mayors are only 10, that is 0.8% of all mayors.
Participation in local elections
Participation rates in local elections are rather high in Turkey compared to developed countries. Participation rates increased in the last decade, from 76% in 2004 to 85% in 2009 and to 89% in 2014.
B- Participation in municipal governance
a- Participation in meetings of municipal council and commissions
Municipal councils convene in the first week of every month. For metropolitan municipalities, district municipal councils convene in the first week, and metropolitan councils in the second week.
Municipal council meetings are public; citizens and the press may freely observe the meetings. The meetings of municipal council commissions are open to relevant professional organizations, civil society organizations and representatives of other organizations. Commission reports and council resolutions are public; everybody may get a copy at the copying cost.
b- Citizens’ assemblies
Citizens’ assemblies consist of representatives from professional organizations, civil society organizations, universities, other public organizations and trade unions. Opinions formed at the citizens’ assembly are communicated to the relevant municipal council which shall take up in its first meeting.
Citizens’ assemblies assume a significant role in raising the awareness of citizens and municipal administration in protecting the rights of the city, implementing the principle of decentralization, ensuring sustainable development and protecting the environment.
Such commissions as women’s commission, youth commission, environment commission and commission for the handicapped within the citizens’ assembly contribute to urban administration by policies and reports they produce in own fields.